I have been in toilets all over Auckland with half-naked women.
No, this is not about sex; this is about drugs. In sport. And thanks to Lance Armstrong, everyone knows about drugs in sport and drug testing, but you may not have realised that some drug testing involves testing urine. And I have done this for a job.
Now you’re asking, who would want to do a job that entails watching people pee – isn’t it a bit icky? Well, aside from the obvious answer – people who love ‘water sports’ (boom tish) – it’s usually only sports nuts or people who are desperate for funds. I fell into the latter category.
In 2001 I had moved to Auckland but didn’t yet have a job, so a friend who was already working in drug testing suggested I try working as a chaperone – the person who hangs out with the athlete and actually gets them to produce the sample. I was keen to earn some money and only slightly alarmed at being that intimately involved with strangers. Suffice to say, you need to be very comfortable with the human body and its various functions.
Despite being advised that it was quite easy, I found the procedures to be myriad and complex. One missing signature or incorrectly completed form, and a guilty athlete could successfully appeal. I wasn’t saving lives, but I didn’t want to stuff it up. On the other hand, the low pay wasn’t highly motivating and the prospect of, for example, a day out in the back blocks of Auckland watching motor cross riders for $30 was not inviting. Still it was cash and an outing.
Here’s how it worked. Once the event finished and your team leader identified the athlete to be tested, you introduced yourself to them as the chaperone, read them the rules, offered them a bottled drink and advised them they had an hour to present to the testing station. This gave them time to relax, rehydrate and hopefully find themselves ready to give a sample.
After these formalities, the athlete generally ignored you, and you followed them around, trying not to mope or think about wine, until they deigned to let you know they were ready to go. Which could take hours, so: boredom.
You stood alone on the perimeter of their family and friends like the kid who wasn’t picked for the team, feeling ridiculous with your clipboard and cooler bag full of Gatorade. (Although one time I was slightly cheered up by this kid who got confused and asked me for my autograph.)
An hour or so of wandering around, listening to people talk about the finer points of women’s hockey could be mind-numbing, so by the time you got the athlete into the toilet you weren’t even thinking about the extreme intimacy factor, you just wanted them to pee. Immediately!
When you watched an athlete pee, you had to see the urine pass from their body. This was because since the dawn of, well, drug testing, athletes have been figuring out ways to get around it, and one of the ways is to get a container of someone else’s pee and hide it under your clothes.
That’s why you couldn’t let them out of your sight, and also why they had to remove their lower clothes and roll their sleeves up while they peed. So many rules and so many situations where you could not possibly follow the rules! For instance, in a portaloo it was impossible to see someone peeing into a cup when you were jammed up against them, nose to nose. See? Awkward.
Small talk was tricky. I’m sociable, but in these situations the talk generally revolved around how the athlete had performed, how difficult it was to pee on command, how it ‘might be easier if I turned on the tap… maybe if we just kept talking about peeing… ‘. By which time I was usually the only one ready to pee. Meanwhile they squatted over the bowl and I tried not to obviously LOOK, but had to look!
Some athletes would completely strip off, and 2001 being pre the fashion for Brazilians, I saw a lot of pubic hair. Yep, a full Brazilian was pretty astounding in 2001 because I do remember the one girl whose vulva was completely bare. And that was shocking!
However, among all the episodes of chaperoning glamorous but slightly deranged bodybuilders, or hanging out with the NZ Warriors at one of their training sessions, my first job still stands out.
Already nervous about stuffing things up, I was then told it was a Paralympian shooting event, so there were athletes from all over the world with a range of abilities. This was like having sex for the first time and hoping for basic missionary, but being told you’re expected to do a backwards cowgirl with a twist!
I had questions. What to do if the athlete had a catheter and bag? Could I let them just empty the contents into the plastic cup? Or did I have to make them reattach the bag and pee again? There seemed to be endless permutations and combinations and chances for me to say something offensive to a disabled person.
Thankfully I avoided that; my Polish woman was in a wheelchair, had no legs and spoke no English. At the testing station, her English-speaking teammate advised us she was having her period so couldn’t give a sample. The possibilities for embarrassment, not to mention complexity, ratcheted up a couple of notches. Blood in the pee! Noooooo! (It was a good try, but this did not stop a drug test.)
Off we went to the disabled toilet, with my heart sinking. Not only was this already tricky, but I couldn’t even speak to this woman. My ‘small talk super power’ would now be useless.
I watched in amazement as she pulled the chair up to the side of the toilet. She removed her trousers, and then I could see her body ended at the top of her thighs. Still in her underwear, she lifted herself over the side of the chair and onto the side of the toilet seat, with her back to me. This also was against the rules as I was supposed to be able to see what she was doing. But to enforce this rule seemed impossible. She removed her underwear and then the waiting began.
As she shifted on the toilet seat, muttering to herself while trying to get the plastic cup out of the wrapper, I felt helpless. Despite her lack of English though, I chatted quietly and did turn the basin tap on, which made no difference at all. After a very long time, she gave up and we returned to the testing station to wait. But my testing virginity was gone, and I was feeling a little more in control.
Thankfully, her husband turned up and she agreed to try again if he could come with us; he made her feel more comfortable and thankfully he spoke a little English. After a few minutes of chatting to her husband about peeing, drug testing, Poland, Auckland, – anything to ignore the semi-naked woman perched on the toilet – we finally had success.
This was how my first week in Auckland started. In a disabled toilet at a shooting range, watching a woman with no legs pee in a cup, while making small talk with her husband.
Things could only get better.
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